For decades, the cargo van has served as the lifeblood in and around America’s cities as a favorite vehicle of contractors, delivery services, and everything in between. Vans like the Chevrolet Express and Ford Econoline served essentially as SUV-sized, covered pickup trucks, hauling everything from tools to cable, supplies, and equipment. They were powerful, rugged, and, for all intents and purposes, as capable as the trucks on which they were based.
That also mean that the vans tended to be quite cumbersome around city blocks, and with their large V8s upfront, they were hardly efficient. The model was in stark contrast to service vans in Europe or Asia, which are generally built on smaller car-based platforms and use torquey, efficient diesel engines rather than gas-guzzling eight-cylinders. But as gas prices continued to swell, businesses Stateside began looking for ways to cut down their overhead, and automakers were happy to oblige.
The Ram ProMaster City joins the stable already housing the Ford Transit Connect, the Chevrolet City Express, and the Nissan NV200 (which the City Express is based heavily on). Generally loaded with smaller V6s, these vans are quickly becoming standard equipment across the country as the savings realized through better fuel economy trump the need or desire for cargo space.
They’re cheaper, too. A Ford Transit Connect costs $22,130 for the small business bruiser (though it’s the larger Transit that sits in for the E-Series; the Chevrolet Express is still on the market for the time being). The Ram begins slightly higher, at $23,130 before destination for the cargo version, while the people-carrying model will add about $1,000 to the MSRP. Around town, the ProMaster should score 21 miles per gallon, and nearly 30 on the highway using Chrysler’s 2.4-liter Tigershark engine coupled with a segment exclusive 9-speed automatic transmission.
The ProMaster is built on the Fiat Doblo platform, which Ram was given access to once Fiat completed its merger with Chrysler and its associated families. The unit will be built in Turkey and brought Stateside, where the optional cargo van configuration is up-fitted at the Chrysler Group Transformation Center in Baltimore, Md., the company said.
In addition to the transmission, the ProMaster unusually features coil-link rear suspension in place of the standard leaf springs for better handling and driving dynamics. The engine produces 178 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque, which Chrysler is quick to point out is the best set of stats for an entry-level engine in the segment.
The van offers a 48.4-inch span between the wheel wells, and that swells to 60 inches above them. All told, buyers will get 131.7 cubic feet for the cargo van, compared with 103.9 cubic feet in the Transit, and still more than the 128 offered by the extended wheelbase version.
Ram is coming into the game at the right time; sales of the Transit Connect increased 28% for the vehicle’s best-ever October performance, according to Ford’s press release from earlier this month. The NV200, meanwhile, saw sales more than double, and is on pace for gains of more than 200% for the year.